Fran Sherman is an editor at the Chicago Botanic Garden. If she's not at her desk, look for her bright orange kayak in the Skokie Lagoons or in Lake Michigan! (She might also be home practicing the violin...)
The opening celebration of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Regenstein Learning Campus on September 10 and 11 is just the beginning of the fun at the Nature Play Garden. How about splashing in the runnel or running up and down the rolling hills?
Beyond those charms, the Nature Play Garden has another wonderful element: plants that were chosen specifically for this garden. There are plants that appeal to all five senses, and plants with funny names or those that exhibit extreme contrasts. One of the best ways to explore the new Learning Campus and its Nature Play Garden is through plants.
In the Garden’s 26 other gardens, plants are chosen, tended, and laid out to enhance the visitor experience. In this, the Garden’s 27th garden, plants are meant to be touched, smelled, and examined up close.
Plants that appeal to the senses:
Sensory plants like lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’) feel soft to the touch.
Obedient plant(Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’) has tubular flowers that remain in place if you move them.
Heaven Scent Jacob’s ladder(Polemonium reptans ‘Heaven Scent’) was chosen for its fragrance. Enjoy its bright bloom in the spring.
Pigsqueak(Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winterglut’) has big, fleshy leaves that squeak when rubbing fingers over them.
Moraine American sweetgum(Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Moraine’) has star-shaped leaves and seedpods that are spiky; when dry, the seedpods are a great percussion instrument when shaken.
Plants that look cool:
Autumn stonecrop(Sedum ‘T Rex’) was a cultivar we didn’t yet have in the Garden. The education staff likes these leaves because they can be filled with air.
Columbus Strain redbud(Cercis Canadensis ‘Columbus Strain’) promise to put on a glorious color show each fall. You won’t have to look far to find these: more than 60 surround the McCormick Entry Plaza.
Johnson’s Select American hornbeam(Carpinus caroliniana ‘JN Select’), a cultivar of hornbeam that is recognized for its unusually smaller and upright stature, is ideal for smaller urban gardens with red and orange fall color. These create the Hornbeam Room in the Nature Play Garden.
Tiny Tortuga turtlehead(Chelone obliqua ‘Tiny Tortuga’) has flower heads that look like turtles.
Lady’s mantle(Alchemilla mollis ‘Thriller’) is best when it rains because the raindrops stay on the leaves.
And a few bonus plants with fun names:
Milk and Cookies common boneset(Eupatorium perfoliatum ‘Milk and Cookies’) is unusually dark-leafed.
There’s also a mythical hero — Hercules coral bells(Heuchera ‘Hercules’) — and a princess — Cinderella anemone (Anemone × hybrida ‘Cinderella’).
The team of horticulturists and landscape designers who worked to choose and plant the elements of the Nature Play Garden looked for four-season interest and plants that would appeal to visitors of all ages and abilities. Our heavy clay soil didn’t work for everything, but the range of options was still enormous. Come to the Nature Play Garden and discover your own favorite plants.
The landscape of northern Illinois has some remarkable features, many of which are remnants of a glacial past. The Chicago Botanic Garden takes advantage of its islands and lakeshore, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes helps to explore and protect the area’s unique and beautiful ravines.
Help shape a healthy future for your local ravines—home to native trees, wildflowers, birds, and butterflies; pathways to Lake Michigan beaches, and scenic backdrops for parks and homes. Learn about erosion that may threaten some of these ravines, as well as such concerns as damage to sewer lines, roads, and bridges. Ask questions, hear from experts, and brainstorm with your neighbors at this workshop that is open to ravine homeowners, ravine experts, local officials, and everyone who cares about the ravines in our community.
Register now for Revitalizing Our Ravines, a community workshop at the Garden on Wednesday, June 1, from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. Experts will speak about how you can help protect and restore ravines. Local landscape and ravine restoration service providers will show examples of ravine restoration and landscaping.
Complimentary snacks, refreshments, and an evening cocktail hour are included with registration for this event. Registration closes on May 30.
Hosted by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Chicago Botanic Garden, Openlands, and the Field Museum.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is on #TitanWatch. That’s right: if you visit the Garden’s Semitropical Greenhouse, you will see Sprout, the latest corpse flower from the Garden’s collection of 13 titan arums to begin a bloom cycle.
You might remember Spike and Alice in 2015: Spike failed to bloom but provided so much excitement; and Alice the Amorphophallus brought visitors to the Garden at all hours to see, and smell, a corpse flower in bloom. Now we are all watching Sprout to see if the corpse flower—known as a titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum)— will produce a huge, rotten bloom. Follow the progress of #CBGSprout on our corpse flower webcam and check our website for updates.
We learned a lot about corpse flowers in the last few months, and in the Semitropical Greenhouse, there are corpse flowers at three different stages on display: in the middle of a bloom cycle (Sprout); a non-blooming titan arum leaf; and a pollinated and fruiting titan arum (it’s Alice!).
Here’s what you need to know as you watch Sprout grow:
The corpse flower is one of the largest and rarest flowering plants in the world. It takes seven to ten years for a single corpse flower to produce a flowering structure (inflorescence). While other corpse flowers in cultivation have bloomed around the world recently, having more than one plant bloom in such a short time is uncommon. Watch for these signs the titan arum bloom is starting.
Speaking of night, that’s when corpse flowers usually bloom. And once they bloom, the bloom lasts 24 to 36 hours. Want a sneak peek? View our last titan arum bloom.
If Sprout blooms, the Garden will stay open until 2 a.m. so visitors can experience the corpse flower bloom up close (last Garden entry will be 1 a.m.). Watch the live corpse flower webcam, check the blog (subscribe today), and follow the Garden on Facebook and #CBGSprout on Twitter to get the latest information.
Corpse flowers are BIG. In their natural habitats, they can reach 10 to 12 feet tall with a bloom diameter of 5 feet. In cultivation, they typically reach 6 to 8 feet in height, but all are different.
Corpse flowers are unpredictable. When the Garden was watching Spike, the first titan arum, even the horticulturists were surprised that the plant did not flower.
Corpse flowers are native to Sumatra, but Sprout was grown here from seed the Garden received in 2008 from the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Learn about the titan arum’s native habitat.
The corpse flower includes the corm, which may or may not go on to produce a flower; the spadix, which is the tall flower spike; the spathe, which is a single, frilly, modified leaf that enwraps the spadix; the petiole, which is the leaf stalk; and the branch-like rachis, which supports the many leaflets. Find more diagrams and information in our titan arum educator resources.
Corpse flowers that bloom in the wild attract pollinators like carrion beetles and flesh flies. Once the plant is successfully pollinated, it develops olive-shaped, red-orange berries. Read more about titan arum pollination.
Corpse flowers need protection. The Garden’s conservation work ensures that plants like these survive and thrive. Studying seeds from Sprout, Spike, and Alice enables scientists and horticulturists at universities, conservatories, and other institutions increase the genetic diversity of the species. See how we are studying our titan arum fruit.
The long summer days of August are a treasure in the Chicago area.
For some parents of toddlers and young children, however, the late afternoon can seem to stretch on endlessly. What is a mom or dad to do after a long day of work, when it is not quite bedtime, and the kids seem to have enough energy to run around the block several more times?
Come to Dancin’ Sprouts at the Chicago Botanic Garden! Every Wednesday in August, a different kid-friendly band strikes up the music on the Esplanade, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Children and their grown-up friends fill the grassy area with blankets, chairs, and high energy. Each group engages these young, enthusiastic audience members, and the children are dancing, singing, jumping, hopping, and smiling from ear to ear.
Against the backdrop of Smith Fountain and the Garden lakes, the sun sinks in the sky, and the children skip and dance until they’re just about ready for bed. The parents and caregivers can head home knowing they’ve spent a summer afternoon just as it should be spent!
There are still four weeks of concerts left this summer (here’s the schedule)! Grab a few friends and make it a Dancin’ Sprouts picnic party!
While you’re planning your Garden visit, don’t miss the Summer Family Fun Pack, which includes parking as well as admission to Butterflies & Blooms and the Model Railroad Garden for up to five people!